Active listening means listening in a manner that focuses entirely on what the other person is saying, and confirms understanding of both the content of the message and the emotions and feelings underlying the message. The goal is to ensure that understanding is accurate.
Active listening is very difficult for most of us, because, after all, “it’s all about me” and so often we have difficulty putting aside our “me” to focus on the other.
Without meaning to, when we have an interaction with another person, even while the other person is talking, we rarely truly listen to them. We are often only partly focused on what the other person is saying, while another part of us is checking to see how what they are saying reflects on us, and what would be an appropriate response to what they are saying. In fact, we often start formulating our response while the other person is still talking!
Active listening is useful, because it helps us forge a deeper connection by putting a focus on trying to really understand what the other is communicating. As discussed in the previous post, the business advantage of understanding other people is probably obvious. When we truly understand someone, we understand their needs, and can sell them our product or service by tailoring it (or our presentation if it) to their needs. This works in classic “selling” situations but also in marketing, interviewing, proposing a suggestion to our boss, or trying to get a co-worker to be on our team.
When we truly “get” another person, we can diffuse difficult situations and interactions by making the other person more comfortable with us and more open to trusting us. This can be very useful in the workplace when interacting with co-workers and managers, or even in personal interactions that are typically strained, such as dealing with in-laws.
In fact, once we practice the art of active listening and learn to truly focus on what the other person is saying, we will often see that difficult people and difficult relationships don’t have to be difficult. While we can’t be “best friends” with everyone and don’t necessarily want to, we can certainly improve our communication with others to the point that takes the stress and animosity out of the majority of our relationships.